The Bistro by Watersmeet Bridge will be released on 6 August, 2019 but you can pre-order it now at the special price of £0.99/$0.99.
Scroll down to read the blurb and to see a sneak preview of the first chapter.
When Olivia goes to manage Finn’s failing bistro, will they end up sharing a table for two, or will it be a recipe for disaster?
Olivia Fuller longs to manage one of the restaurants in her father’s chain and to break free to live the independent life she’s wanted for so long. When her father finally puts his trust in her and sends her to a failing restaurant in Devon, she’s confident she can prove herself capable of doing the job.
Finn Anderson is about to lose his beloved seaside bistro, unless the bank can find a buyer to dig him out. When George Fuller offers Finn a deal, he has no choice but to accept if he wants any chance of getting his bistro back one day. And then the new manager arrives…
Even after meeting the prickly chef and discovering his complete lack of business skills,
Olivia is confident she can turn the struggling business round. But as Olivia and Finn start working together, a mutual attraction develops between them, and soon, nothing is going according to Olivia’s plan.
When there’s a real chance that the bistro might be sold off, Olivia and Finn determine to fight for it, united by their hard work and their growing feelings for each other.
But can they save the bistro and be together, or does destiny have a different path in mind?
A feel-good contemporary romance set in a bistro beside the sea in Devon.
Olivia went over what she was going to say to her father one last time as the train rattled its way towards Bristol. Years of habit kept her back straight, her knees pressed together, her ankles crossed and her hands folded lightly in her lap, but her mind was racing with what she was about to do. There would be no coming back from the ultimatum she was going to give, and she was still unsure whether she was doing the right thing. But the job offer from Café Express had come at just the right moment and it was time to put herself first. Her mind returned to her speech and she was soon lost in her thoughts again.
The train finally squealed to a halt and people all around her stood up, impatient to get off the train and on their way to work. Olivia picked up her bag, left the carriage and set off on foot for the short journey to the company offices, leaving the grand old station behind her. She pulled her woollen coat tighter around her and made her way towards the river Avon, resisting all the coffee shops with their glorious early morning smell of roasted beans. The bright March sunshine calmed her and took her mind off the impending showdown with her father. As she approached the white metal bridge across the river, her long ponytail swinging behind her, she wished things hadn’t come to this between them.
In no time at all, she found herself on the pavement outside the gleaming windows of the high-rise offices of La Riviera, the restaurant chain her father had spent his life building up. She was soon swept up by all the other employees making their way inside. The automatic doors swooshed open, and a second later she was crossing the sand-coloured marble foyer. Using her ID badge, she passed through the barrier and walked towards the bank of lifts. Several other employees were already waiting there, but even though she recognised some of them, she didn’t speak to anyone, and no-one spoke to her. She studiously avoided eye contact, after several years’ practice, refusing to let her guard down long enough to let anyone else in.
The lift arrived and she followed everyone else inside, squeezing herself into the back corner. The lift stopped at every floor as people made their way to work, but eventually, she was alone, speeding up to the executive suite of offices. This was where her father dominated the rest of the company, and where she was planning to do battle with him. She drew in a deep breath, trying not to let fear overwhelm her. She had put up with his behaviour for long enough. Now it was time to break free.
‘Ah, the lovely Miss Fuller. I trust you had a jolly weekend?’ Ryan started badgering her before she’d even taken off her coat.
‘I’m sure you’ve got far more important things to do than annoying me, Ryan.’ Olivia busied herself hanging up her coat on the stand in the corner of the office they shared with two other members of the Sales and Acquisitions team, and steadfastly ignored him. His eyes never left her the whole time she was booting up her computer and she willed him, for once, to leave her alone. As Marcus and Jake arrived, Ryan became distracted enough to give up bothering her, and she released a slow breath.
It wasn’t long until the start of the Monday morning briefing, so she quickly scanned her emails to see if there was anything important she needed to know beforehand. She planned to speak to her father straight afterwards. He was a stickler for punctuality and if she upset him by being late, she would already have lost her advantage.
‘C’mon, gorgeous. Time to go and listen to your old man’s pearls of wisdom.’ Marcus gave her a salacious wink before turning towards the door.
Olivia worked hard not to roll her eyes at him. She was used to the jibes of her colleagues. She didn’t appreciate their taunts, of course, but she’d found it was best to simply ignore them. That way, they usually lost interest fairly quickly. She picked up her notebook and pen and joined the others on the walk to the boardroom. She stayed a few paces behind the rest of the team, who had joined them from adjacent offices. They were all men, hand-picked by her father or his lackeys for their ruthless business approach, and rejected by her, almost every one of them, for their cheesy come-ons. She’d made the mistake of letting one of them in once, but never again. She was still recovering from that experience and the effect it had had on her. Her trust in men had been severely damaged when she’d found out he only saw her as a way of gaining favour with her father. Somehow, though, she still held out some hope. Surely there was a man out there for her somewhere who would respect her for who she was and what she wanted to do with her life, rather than because she was the daughter of their wealthy boss?
She came to a stop, as everyone else had done. They were still in the corridor and clearly unable to enter the boardroom. She stood on her tiptoes and strained to see what was going on. Other people were doing the same, so raising herself up made no difference to her view. Marcus pushed his way to the front and bent his head to study something on the glossy wooden door. Next thing, he walked back to rejoin Ryan and Jake before the three of them turned around and made to go past her.
‘That’s a first. Who’d have thought old man Fuller had it in him to break with tradition like that?’ grumbled Jake.
‘What’s happening?’ Olivia was startled out of her usual silence by the sudden change of plan.
‘The meeting’s been postponed to this afternoon.’
* * *
Finn stared at the silver-haired man sitting opposite him at the table, next to his banker, Mr Stephens. The older man oozed wealth and authority in his crisp, pin-striped grey suit, white shirt and tie, and his cufflinks glittered as he brushed a speck of imaginary lint from his lapel.
Finn stood out in this ancient office in his jeans and his faded t-shirt, the complete opposite of the other two men. He didn’t warm to the stranger at all, but he did his best to put his anxiety to one side. He was hoping this meeting might be the answer to his prayers. He fidgeted in his seat, eager for it to start so he could find out what was going on. Mr Stephens spoke first, and Finn swiftly met his gaze.
‘Finn, I’d like to introduce you to George Fuller. He runs the La Riviera chain of restaurants down here in Devon and around the south-west. He has a proposition for you, which I would advise you to consider very carefully.’
Finn tried hard not to grimace at the name of the soulless Mediterranean restaurant chain. He sat up straighter in his chair, trying to convey the idea he was every bit the successful restauranteur, despite his casual attire. Mr Fuller leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs gracefully, leaving one foot, clad in a shiny black leather shoe, dangling in the air. ‘Mr Anderson – or may I call you Finn?’
Finn nodded and swallowed, wondering what the proposition was going to be but not daring to speak.
‘I believe the restaurant you own on the high street in Lynford is in trouble financially?’ Mr Fuller’s eyebrows rose in query.
‘Er, yes. I can’t afford the loan repayments any more, so I’ve put the restaurant up for sale.’ Finn reddened at having to admit this to a complete stranger.
‘Quite.’ Fuller paused and steepled his hands in front of his face, as if considering what he was going to say next. Finn swallowed again and waited, darting a quick look at Mr Stephens to see if he might give him any clues. The banker’s face gave nothing away so Finn returned his gaze to the enigmatic Mr Fuller.
‘Well, Finn, I think we may be of service to each other. I will take over the restaurant lease for you and I will pay off the £50,000 outstanding on the bank’s loan. But I want something in return.’
Finn’s jaw dropped at the man’s audacity. In the silence that followed, after he’d quickly closed his mouth, the only sound was the clock ticking on Mr Stephens’ desk. Meanwhile, Finn tried to control his rising anger towards the arrogant man in front of him. He relaxed his clenched hands and blew out a long breath before speaking again.
‘My restaurant is worth much more than the value of the loan on it, Mr Fuller. That’s why it’s up for £100,000,’ he said at last, glancing again at the banker in the hope he would help with the negotiation. But again, Mr Stephens remained silent.
‘It probably is worth more than that, but I believe I am the only buyer currently showing an interest. You’ve had your chance to prove its worth and you’ve failed miserably. I’m only interested in paying off your loan because it suits my purpose. Otherwise, you’d be on the brink of going bankrupt and losing everything.’
Finn gritted his teeth and gave the man his best steely glare, but Mr Fuller didn’t seem remotely bothered. Instead, he sighed and stared at his manicured nails. This ability to stay calm in difficult negotiations was undoubtedly the reason he had a chain of restaurants to his name, Finn thought to himself. That, and the fact he seemed to be a complete bastard. Finn wondered what it was the older man wanted from him, but he was damned if he was going to ask.
‘I haven’t got time to waste sitting here waiting for you to ask me what it is I want in return, so I’m going to get straight to the point,’ Fuller said. ‘In return for paying off your loan, I want you to continue as chef at the restaurant when the new manager I put in place takes over.’
Finn held his breath for a long moment before speaking again. ‘And why would you want me to do that?’
Fuller shrugged. ‘It’s simply a condition of this deal that you agree to stay on as chef for the next six months, so if you want to clear your debt and have a go at restoring your reputation, I need your answer now.’
Finn ran his hands through his hair and stared down at his lap, wracking his brains to see if there was a catch to this deal. If he didn’t take up Fuller’s offer, the bank would foreclose on the loan, and he’d still owe the best part of fifty grand to them with no prospect of ever paying it back. But if he did take Fuller up on his offer, Finn would still be working at his restaurant, despite all that had happened recently, and maybe there was a chance he could clear his name, rebuild his own reputation and make everything right again. He looked up into Fuller’s smug face, and gave a small smile.
Fuller stood, stretched his arms and pulled neatly on each shirt sleeve, as if to emphasise his victory. Finn scraped back his chair and grasped Fuller’s extended hand.
‘Excellent decision, Finn. Now, let’s iron out the details.’ Fuller stooped to pick up a small, leather briefcase and rested it on his chair to open it. He pulled out a slim Manila folder and flipped it open to extract a sheaf of papers.
‘This is the contract I had my lawyers draw up. It outlines everything I’ve said to you today, and one or two other minor conditions.’ He handed the papers over to Finn along with a pen and sat back down to wait for him to sign it. As Finn read the first clause, all his earlier hopes and dreams drained away in the face of the stark reality of the contract: ‘I, Finn Anderson, agree to sell Le Bistro Français and all its assets to La Riviera. I will no longer have any say in the day-to-day running of the restaurant or any authority over operational matters. I will be an employee of La Riviera, nothing more.’
* * *
Olivia returned to her desk in a daze. Now, slumped in front of her computer, she pondered what on earth could have prompted this change of plan by her father. He never missed the Monday morning briefing, and woe betide any of his employees who missed it. Where was he? She’d seen him at dinner the previous evening and he hadn’t given any indication he wouldn’t be in today. She hadn’t seen him at breakfast, but then that wasn’t as unusual. He’d stolen her thunder, as always, even if he’d done so unwittingly, and she wasn’t sure she could summon up the courage now to deliver her speech.
She released a small sigh as she pulled herself up straight and opened the latest company file she’d been working on. At least she’d become an expert in what made restaurants succeed and fail in the three years she’d been left dangling by her father, with nothing better to do than pore over company reports. She didn’t mind the theory, but she longed for the practice of managing her own project. She wanted to work in a restaurant and put all she’d learned into action.
She was so focused on her latest report that when her phone rang a little over an hour later, it made her jump. It was her father’s PA, and, as always, Mrs Bell came straight to the point.
‘Your father would like to see you in his office at once.’
Olivia’s palms began to sweat. Her father hardly ever called her into his office. He was determined not to be seen to give her any advantages over her peers. Her instinct was to jump up and follow the order she’d been given, but instead she breathed in, closed her eyes and went over her speech one last time in her head.
‘I’ve been working here for three years now and you still haven’t given me a restaurant of my own to turn into a success. In the beginning, I understood your reasons but now it has gone on too long. I won’t be passed over for one of the men in the team one more time. Either you give me a business or I’m leaving. I’ve been offered another job and I’m not afraid to take it.’
She opened her eyes to find Marcus, Ryan and Jake all staring at her.
‘All right, princess? You looked like you were away with the fairies then,’ mocked Jake. The other two snickered in their usual schoolboy way. After years of their sneering, Olivia was almost immune to it. Almost. She stood up, pushed her chair under her desk, turned her back on them and left the office. She worked hard not to ever give them the satisfaction of knowing when they did actually get to her.
On the way to her father’s office, she nipped into the ladies to check her appearance and to reassure herself one more time she was doing the right thing. She studied herself in the bank of mirrors, staring critically at her lightly freckled face and trying to tame her curly hair into submission within the ponytail, but failing as always. Her minimal make-up was flawless and although she smoothed down her skirt, there was no need. Her outfits were always pristine and she took confidence in that. A couple of minutes later, she let the door close behind her, lifted her head and walked steadily along the corridor towards the executive suite. She came to a stop in front of Mrs Bell’s desk, just outside her father’s office.
‘I have Miss Fuller here to see you, Mr Fuller,’ Mrs Bell said into the phone. ‘Yes, sir.’ She smiled slightly and nodded at Olivia. ‘Go straight in, Miss Fuller.’
Olivia hated the way even Mrs Bell wouldn’t let her guard down towards her. She had nothing against Mrs Bell particularly; she was only doing what her father had instructed her to do in addressing staff members so formally, but it still felt as though no-one was ever on her side. She didn’t reply, she just turned on her heel and headed towards her father’s office, knocking briskly on the solid oak door before going in. Her heels sank into the pile carpet at once and it was an effort to take each step without losing a shoe. She stopped in front of her father’s desk and waited while he finished making some handwritten notes on a report he was reading. This was his way of making his employees uncomfortable and she had long since lost hope of him treating her any differently to anyone else. She used the time to look at the photograph he kept of her and her mother on his desk. Olivia was just a baby in the black and white photo, and it was her mother’s smile that captivated her. She turned to study her father and suppressed a sigh. In her heart, she believed he loved her, but he seemed incapable of showing her.
Finally, he looked up and gave her a fleeting smile. ‘Take a seat, Olivia.’
‘I prefer to stand for what I have to say, Father.’ She congratulated herself in her head for having made the first move.
His eyes widened. ‘You have something you wish to say to me?’
She took a calming breath. ‘I do. I’ve been working here–’
‘I asked you to take a seat, Olivia.’ His request had been rhetorical. He would not be manipulated in his own office, especially not by his daughter. He glared at her and she lost some of her nerve.
‘And I would like you to listen to what I have to say… please,’ she said.
‘So, you don’t want to hear about the restaurant I want you to manage?’
Olivia gasped, despite herself, and sank into the nearest chair.
‘I thought that might get your attention.’
‘That’s wonderful news, Father, thank you.’ All thoughts of the job she’d been offered at Café Express went out of her head. This was what she had dreamed of for so long.
‘To be honest, Olivia, it’s a stroke of luck I hadn’t sent you anywhere else before, because now you’re free to stand in as manager at the new place I’ve bought down in Devon. Rupert called this morning to say he was in the hospital with a broken leg. Damn fool for going skiing in the first place, if you ask me. Anyway, you can go in his place until he’s fit again. And don’t worry about your lack of experience. I’ve kept the old chef on to give you a hand while you get started.’
* * *
Finn returned to his tiny flat above the restaurant after the meeting, his head spinning. He sank down into his one armchair, let his head fall back and closed his eyes, desperate to forget the humiliation he’d endured. He’d had no choice but to sign the contract there and then, selling his beloved restaurant to that awful man and, at the same time, agreeing to go back and work in the place when it no longer belonged to him. Finn had at least had the foresight to push Fuller into paying him a decent salary once the restaurant reopened. He had the feeling Mr Fuller thought he had let the restaurant fail on purpose, but nothing could be further from the truth. He loved the restaurant with every fibre of his being and had done since his first day there as a teenager, when he’d been given the job of washing the dishes.
His moment of wallowing in self-pity was rudely interrupted by a loud knock on his downstairs door. He’d been avoiding his friends for days, so he forced himself to get up to go and see who it was.
‘Finn, where the hell have you been? I’ve been worried about you.’ His friend Ed, stood on the doorstep, his rugged face creased in a frown.
‘Come in and I’ll tell you everything.’ Finn held the door back and Ed squeezed his six foot plus frame through the tiny opening before ambling up the stairs into Finn’s small living space.
‘What’s the story, man? Is the restaurant really for sale?’ Ed sat down on the sofa, ignoring the armchair, which experience had clearly taught him was nowhere near big enough to take his body.
Finn fetched two beers from the fridge, passing one to Ed, and took a long gulp of his own before facing his friend. ‘It was for sale, because I couldn’t pay the loan on it any more. But it’s not for sale as of today. I’m sorry for not filling you in before now. It’s been a lot to deal with.’
‘Shit, I had no idea things were as bad as that. Do you have a buyer now?’
‘Sort of, yeah.’ And Finn filled him in on the nightmarish scenario he now found himself in.
‘Christ, I don’t know what’s worse – losing the restaurant or being forced to work in it again when it no longer belongs to you. That’s going to be a real bummer for you, and plus, you have no idea what the manager’s going to be like. Mind you, looking on the bright side, this is a fresh start.’ Ed gave him a wink, ever the optimist.
Finn groaned. ‘To tell the truth, I feel like I’ve let everyone down that ever had faith in me. When Bob and Jen retired, I tried hard to make the restaurant a success. If they knew how badly I’d failed, they’d be ashamed of me, and even more so if they could see what I’ve agreed to now. I’m not sure I can try as hard to make a go of it on someone else’s behalf. That’s about the worst thing anyone could ask me to do.’
‘On the plus side, your loan will be paid off and you have a clean slate to start as a chef again, without any of the business responsibilities.’ Ed smiled, and Finn was grateful he’d let his friend in.
‘I just have to hope the manager knows what he’s doing, and he’s not too awful to work for. At least it’s only for six months.’ Fuller had been very clear about that condition – if he tried to leave before the six months were up, he would find himself saddled with his debt again.
‘And then what will you do?’
‘I’ll have to move on, I suppose. It’s not like any other restaurant here is going to give me a job with my track record, is it?’ For a moment, Finn was lost in regret, but then he shook himself out of it. ‘What I’d like is to make a success of the restaurant again and then to buy it back one day.’ Ed gave him a sceptical look. ‘I know, I know, it sounds crazy but I love that place and I’d like to give it another try, if only to prove to myself that I can do it.’
‘But that sounds impossible when it belongs to this new company. You need a miracle, I reckon.’
‘Well, stranger things have happened, you know.’
Ed nodded wisely. ‘Does this new freedom mean you’ll get out and about more now? I haven’t seen you in the village for ages. We need to go out for a few drinks at the pub, before this manager arrives and you have no free time ever.’
‘To be honest, I didn’t think I could show my face around after having to close the bistro and put Zoe and Jamie out of a job as well. They didn’t deserve to suffer because of my failings. And the rest of the community can’t have a good word for me, either.’
‘Don’t be daft. Everyone knows how hard it is to keep a business running in a tourist place like this, and on top of that your mum was ill and your business manager moved away. The whole village knows you did your best to keep on top of everything when you were visiting your mum in the hospice. Zoe’s got another job already, and I don’t think Jamie minds losing his washing-up job when he’s got to concentrate on studying for his A levels anyway. So don’t be too hard on yourself about what happened. Now, when are we going for that beer?’
‘How about tonight, then? No time like the present.’ Finn smiled, but his earlier optimism was fading. Even though Ed was right, he was still burdened by what had happened to the bistro and the way his staff had lost their jobs, through no fault of their own. Still, at least they were well out of the new situation.
‘Excellent, let’s get to it.’ Ed hauled himself off the sofa, deposited his empty bottle in the sink and made his way back down the stairs, with Finn trailing behind him.